Dental educational institutions move with the tech revolution

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Whereas the idea of modernising dental educational institutions sounds like a good one, the logistics and costs are a significant hurdle. (Image: O-IAHI/Shutterstock)
Luke Gribble, Dental Tribune International

By Luke Gribble, Dental Tribune International

Tue. 11. January 2022

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LEIPZIG, Germany: The digital dentistry revolution is here. That is a common sentiment among many dental professionals, and it is backed up by the growth in areas such as 3D printing and clear aligners. However, whereas dental professionals are modernising their workflow, how are dental educational institutions worldwide reacting to these changes, and what challenges do they face in making sure their students are prepared for the working world?

One dental school leading the way in the digital education revolution is King’s College London. As reported by Planmeca, the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral and Craniofacial Sciences is the first dental school in the world to incorporate state-of-the-art digital dentistry into dental education.

Optimising a blend of clinical, simulation, haptic and CAD/CAM technologies, the school allows students to train on real human teeth with the help of virtual reality. This mixture of technology and a more traditional approach was recently acknowledged when King’s won the Technological or Digital Innovation of the Year trophy at the 17th Times Higher Education awards. Speaking about the success, Prof. Michael Escudier, interim executive dean of the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral and Craniofacial Sciences, said: “This is a wonderful recognition of the huge team effort that went into the innovative and integrated use of technology to support student learning and enable their timely progression into the healthcare workforce.”

That progression into the workforce is something many educational institutions are thinking about. Students want to obtain the best education possible, and the latest technology is an essential criterion in their selection process. Speaking to Dental Tribune International, Prof. Axel Spahr, Director of Oral Rehabilitation and Head Discipline of Periodontics, University of Sydney, said, “For the Sydney Dental School, it is of paramount importance to offer a dental education that involves all modern and state-of-the-art techniques and materials. Teaching leading-edge technologies and techniques and using top-notch equipment and state-of-the-art materials are the most important criteria which will attract applications from future students.”

That process has been one involving both students and teachers. “From the beginning, the Sydney Dental School has involved the students of both the undergraduate and postgraduate programme as well as the student representatives and student organisations in this process that we call the digital dentistry journey,” said Prof. Spahr. Having plans to integrate more digital technology over the coming years, Prof. Spahr said, “It is an absolute and vital necessity and major future goal for the Sydney Dental School to implement and establish full digital dentistry teaching and training at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.”

“It requires significant investment if a school wants to upgrade its workflow” — Dr Ilser Turkyilmaz

Of course, implementing a comprehensive digital workflow requires a significant amount of planning and funding. Someone well versed at implementing digital technology into the educational setting is Dr Ilser Turkyilmaz, from the Department of Prosthodontics at the New York University College of Dentistry. Dr Turkyilmaz is leading digital transformation at the school, has written several papers on the challenges dental educational institutions face in modernising their offerings, and provides advice to many schools across the US on how best to approach the current digital revolution.

Speaking independently to Dental Tribune International, Dr Turkyilmaz said the three main hurdles a school faces are cost, training and infrastructure when planning to upgrade and modernise. He explained, “In the first place, it requires significant investment if a school wants to upgrade its workflow. Secondly, the faculty has to be willing to be trained and to upskill in order to go on then and educate students. Thirdly, because all this technology has been designed for mostly single-practice chairside use where a dentist might scan one or two crowns a day, unfortunately in large dental educations institutions, that model does not work in the same manner, and the infrastructure needed to accommodate sometimes hundreds of students is immense.”

Specifically, one of the main challenges is data security. Dr Turkyilmaz said, “Two years ago, we started thinking about some new ideas on data security and spoke with many companies about how we could integrate a secure workflow. In the end, Planmeca was the only company willing to work with us in a way that allowed us to create what we have called the fully integrated workflow.” Although Dr Turkyilmaz was unable to share any concrete details owing to ongoing developments, he did say that there is a chance for dental companies like Planmeca to become more involved with dental schools. “Students who are not trained to use this new technology will be less willing to adopt it into their practice when they start working,” he said, noting that, if companies were more willing to invest in education, the returns could be significant when students enter the workforce.

However, whereas the need to remain up-to-date with the latest technology and trends is essential for dental schools and their students, according to Dr Turkyilmaz, completely letting go of traditional methods is not a good idea either. “Training in a hybrid model of digital and traditional techniques is best. I know of examples where students have only been trained to use digital technology and do not know, for example, how to take an impression using traditional techniques. This is a problem, because if you go for an interview at a private practice and your prospective employer has not implemented things like intra-oral scanners, then you will find that you are not very hireable.”

This balance between traditional methods and new technology within an educational setting is not new. Commenting on how the future might look, Dr Turkyilmaz said, “Technology has changed the world. Dentistry and dental education are not immune to that. Many of the techniques we are currently using are almost completely different from what was delivered 20 or 30 years ago. And I am sure that, in another 20 or 30 years, the situation will be vastly different again.”

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